Think the South Is Poor? Try Britain

by John O'Sullivan

Writing in today’s Telegraph here and on the Spectator blogFraser Nelson makes the important point that “America’s racial divide” is no larger and no more significant than Britain’s social and geographical divisions. Of course, both divisions are important and regrettable. But the divisions are different because the nations are different.

Black Americans, for instance, have a life expectancy shorter by five years than their white neighbors. Though that sharp racial difference is not exactly paralleled in Britain, the life expectancy of someone born in Liverpool is five years lower than that of someone born in Westminster. Indeed, a Londoner reduces his life expectancy in London simply by crossing Westminster Bridge to “South of the River”–thus becoming the equivalent of New York’s “bridge-and-tunnel people.” Beware of simplistic interpretations of the statistics, however — Britain’s life expectancy will rise immediately (if modestly) if Scotland votes for independence next month.  

Fraser’s articles were obviously provoked by British commentary on Ferguson, which has veered between horrified and condescending. He’s providing a corrective to these attitudes. Read the pieces. But as someone born in Liverpool and living in Alabama, I was struck more by the statistics he quotes showing that if Britain were a state in the U.S., it would be the second poorest state in the union. And America’s poor are richer than Britain’s in every category except the lowest 5 percent in both countries.

These figures will come as a great relief to the good people of Mississippi. Alas for them, they come out as the one state with lower living standards than the U.K. as they have long been at the bottom of almost all such lists of American states. But when anyone cites the poor performance of southern states in educational standards, life expectancy, or anything else, they will hear  the citizens of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas breathe out  a grateful “Thank Heaven for Britain!” and remain silent and smile quietly to themselves.